Like every youngster who grew up playing basketball in Texico, the goal was the same for L.J. Jenkins.
Someday, make it to the Pit.
It never happened for Jenkins as a Wolverine hoopster. But man, has it happened since.
On Friday, Jenkins thrilled the Pit crowd during his homecoming at the 17th annual Ty Murray Invitational. The 25-year-old Jenkins showed plenty of – well, True Grit – in riding ornery John Wayne for the full eight seconds during this three-day stop on the Built Ford Tough Series Professional Bull Riders Tour.
In the process of mastering John Wayne, Jenkins proved you certainly can go home again, Pilgrim.
“I played basketball my freshman year of high school, but my coach kind of didn’t like me riding on weekends and getting hurt, so I quit,” Jenkins says. “We had a few state basketball titles, but we didn’t make it to the Pit when I played. But being here as a professional bull rider – I’ll take this over that any day.”
What Jenkins hopes to take this weekend is a third title at the Ty Murray. He won it in 2008 and 2011. And the fans haven’t forgotten.
The 7,891 on hand gave Jenkins the most thunderous ovation during the festive introduction ceremonies. And he didn’t disappoint, scoring an 87 out of 100 for the fifth best score of the evening.
“I just love coming here,” said Jenkins, who now lives in Porum, Okla. “Even though I don’t live here now, these fans still cheer for me like I did. Usually I always do really good here, just because of all the energy and excitement. It helps my confidence, and really gets me pumped up.”
All 35 competitors ride again tonight, then a third time on Sunday afternoon. Those with the top 10 to 15 combined scores after the three rides qualify for Sunday’s championship round and a shot at the $30,000 top prize.
Jenkins enters this week’s event in 25th place in the overall tour standings but is looking to make another run at the top 10 – where he has finished three times in his previous eight seasons on the tour, including each of the last two.
“I had a horrible first event this year,” says Jenkins, who finished third last year and has won $1.5 million during his career.
“I dislocated my shoulder in New York City and I was out four events. It hurt my season, but I’m coming back strong, and my goal is top five or top 10 by the end of the year.”
The only two riders who finished higher than Jenkins last year were Brazilians Silvano Alves and Guilherme Marchi.
Jenkins, born in Springfield, Mo., lived in Texico for about 10 years. He was home-schooled his senior year in 2006, allowing him to compete in PBR events at the age of 18 – the tour’s minimum.
In 2008, he had eight top-10 finishes and also helped the United States win the World Cup in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Jenkins says he doesn’t get back to Texico often, but “I have my own PBR invitational every year in Clovis. I love that, because all my buddies come to ride and I get to go see everybody again. It’s always special coming back.”
NOTES: The 100-point scale is based on the rider’s performance, as well as the bull’s. Each is worth a maximum of 50 points.
The Australian duo of Ben Jones (90) and Brendon Clark (87.75) – the only two from Down Under in the competition – were first and third, respectively, after Friday’s round. Brazil’s Emilo Resende (89.5) is second and Mike Lee (87.25) of Decatur, Texas, is fourth.
Defending champ J. B. Mauney (84.5) is 13th and two-time world champion Alves (82.5) is 16th. The PBR’s current No. 1, Shane Proctor, was one of 18 who failed to finish his ride and did not score.